a week in wireless

The heat is on

Just eleven days into his role as CEO, Brendan Eich is waving goodbye to the company he co-founded 15 years ago. Eich, best known for developing the Javascript programming language has resigned from his post as CEO of Mozilla Corporation as well as leaving the board of the non-profit organisation which owns Mozilla Corp over an equality row.

Eich received a considerable roasting on his appointment after it emerged he made a donation in 2008 in support of a Californian anti-gay marriage law proposition. One of the biggest blows came from popular dating website OKCupid, which greeted members using the Mozilla web browser with a message suggesting they switch to a browser developed by companies that support equal rights for gay couples.

Mozilla executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker issued an apology on behalf of the company and said: “We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.” Now the search for a new leader begins.

There was some hand waving going on over at Google-owned Nest too, as the maker of fancy thermostats and connected home devices had to halt sales of its fire alarm when it emerged the device could be accidentally disarmed by an arm wave.

Nest had made a big fuss over the ‘wave’ feature of its Protect fire alarm, which enabled a user to hush the device when it reacts to the toast starts burning by waving at it. Turns out the device can be accidentally deactivated in the same way. Refunds are being offered while a fix is developed and in the meantime, internet connected devices will have the wave feature disabled.

Amazon was starting a fire of its own, having finally launched its much-anticipated TV streaming device, Amazon Fire TV, taking on the likes of Apple TV and Roku with its own connected set top box.

The box makes it easy for viewers to access Amazon’s Prime Instant Video service from their TVs, as well services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Watch ESPN and Showtime. Among the features of the device is voice search, which users can activate by pressing a button and speaking into their remote. No arm waving required.

Better keep an eye on all those internet connected devices though. The SANS Institute, which keeps watch over web security reported the discovery of the first malware compiled specifically for these ARM-based connected devices. This particular bad boy was found to be targeting connected DVRs, which are typically found in security cameras. It was just the application that was baffling. The malware was actually installing what is effectively the world’s slowest BitCoin mining rig. Given the power needed to actually generate new coins these days, it’s unlikely the originators of the malware would ever have punched a single coin out.

Still it just goes to show the innovations coming out of Camp Nasty and serves as a warning of what will come in an ever more connected world.

Take cars for example. Electric car manufacturer Tesla, which has had a few issues with spontaneous combustion in the past, this week locked up M2M agreements with European operator groups Telefónica and KPN for in-car connectivity for Tesla’s Model S across several European nations.

Telefónica’s global M2M platform is powered by Jasper Wireless, which recently won a Telecoms.com 2014 Award for Progress in Machine to Machine Communications and will enable services including navigation, online music, internet browsing, and remote vehicle diagnostics.

It is possible that the scope of the M2M agreement could be extended significantly in the future. Over the past six months, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has gone on record in press interviews and on Twitter to outline the firm’s plans to make autonomous, self-driving Tesla models within three years, which would rely heavily on M2M connectivity. Uh oh.

There were further Internet of Things developments in the shape of a new venture led by the founder of small cell provider Ubiquisys, Will Franks. The company, called Senaptic, has been spun out of telemetry consultancy Plextek and will take Plextek’s Ultra Narrowband (UNB) radio technology, its intellectual property and its existing customer base and offer a standardised solution for connecting a variety of devices across a range of verticals.

The UNB technology behind the play operates in the largely unlicensed ISM band (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) and Senaptic aims to supply entire networks to regional and vertical licensees which will then develop and deliver services to end users. Existing deployments include two UK street lighting networks and a Russian public authority that uses the solution to monitor and display information relating to free parking spaces.

Over in the USA, the Federal Communications Commission has voted to free up more spectrum for wifi usage in a bid to help nudge the capabilities of typical installations of the technology over the 1Gbps mark.

The new FCC rules will make 100MHz of spectrum in the 5GHz band more accessible for use in homes and congested spaces like convention centres, parks, and airports and increase the potential for more unlicensed spectrum innovation.

But back on this side of the pond German operator E-Plus is looking at a reduction in spectrum holdings. Telecoms regulator the Bundesnetzagentur has warned Spanish operator group Telefónica that its acquisition of KPN’s German subsidiary E-Plus could result in the firms relinquishing some spectrum.

KPN’s shareholders approved the sale of E-Plus to Telefónica Deutschland in October. But E-Plus currently holds 10MHz spectrum in the 900MHz band; 54.8MHz in the 1.8GHz band; 44.6MHz in the 2GHz band, 30MHz in 2.6GHz and 84MHz in the 3.5GHz band. And Telefonica also holds a sizeable spectrum portfolio in Germany with 20MHz in the 800MHz band; 10MHz in the 900MHz band; 34.8MHz in 1.8GHz; 48.9MHz in 2GHz and 50MHz in the 2.6GHz spectrum band.

According to the Bundesnetzagentur, the company formed by a Telefonica and E-Plus merger would own 28.8 per cent of the spectrum available in the 900MHz band and 63.8 per cent of spectrum in the 1800MHz band; more than twice as much as Deutsche Telekom owns in the 1800MHz band and more than eight times more than Vodafone’s 7.7 per cent of spectrum holding in the band. That’s obviously going to get some backs up.

The web guys are taking another swipe at the operator fraternity with their own network ideas and how are they going to do it? With drones! The Facebook-backed Internet.org initiative has revealed that it is building its first high altitude drone as part of a plan to provide connectivity to unconnected communities.

In August last year, Facebook launched the Internet.org initiative with vendors Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung and this week announced plans to launch internet services to remote areas in emerging nations using various technologies including satellite, free space optics and high-altitude drones.

Facebook has recruited the five-person team from UK-based Ascenta, which has expertise in designing and building high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) aircraft. In addition, the firm said it has recruited staff from NASA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. The idea is to beam signals from low Earth orbit (LEO) and geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) satellites to drones operating at 65,000ft that can broadcast a powerful signal that covers a city-sized area of medium population density. Solar powered drones can remain in the air for months or years, the organisation claims.

There are also rumours circulating about Google, which is thought to be in the process of taking its Google Fiber model and moving into mobile. Vague reports have surfaced about a plan that revolves around a combination of a city wide wifi network and an MVNO agreement with a national carrier.

On the flip side, two operator groups have formed startup incubator projects to drive some innovation in the markets they operate in. Millicom has set up a technology incubator through its Tigo brand in Rwanda, aiming to help entrepreneurs in the country to develop an innovative and scalable business which the operator group will take a stake in.

Meanwhile Orange has selected seven projects that it too will support as part of its Orange Fab France acceleration programme. The programme sees Orange provide startups with three months of mentoring and support in developing their products and business.

A small company called Novauris will be getting some mentoring from Apple, amid reports the iPhone maker has bought the firm which specialises in speech recognition software. Novauris develops voice control software similar to Nuance, which currently powers Apple’s Siri. But it is thought that Apple is working on moving more language processing to the device rather than relying on the cloud so users can do more with voice control without a data connection present.

Hot stuff.

The Informer

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